Fake it till you make it

It’s been an interesting two and a half weeks as a newbie in the Virginia education system.  After teaching in South Carolina for four years plus one student teaching, I had finally gotten comfortable with all the hoops, jargon, rhetoric, and style of being a teacher in South Carolina, which trust me, is not easy.  Then my husband was transferred to Washington, D.C.

I was excited for the change. Those that know me well, know that despite being raised in SC, I wasn’t it’s biggest fan.  We had a slogan that stated Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places…well South Carolina does certainly have beautiful places…but not so much of Smiling Faces.  It’s more like a small town with pitchforks and torches while holding a cross high above their heads, which may or may not be on fire.  Not everyone was like that.  Columbia was a more liberal bastion, but with any little bit of liberalism, you had angry conservative backlash.  So it was a relief to be leaving the state.  I didn’t make friends too easily, but the ones I did make were pure gold.  I miss them dearly, as well as my old social studies department. 

Back to educational differences, I decided to make a list of things that are different here, for better or for worse:

  1. It’s social sciences not social studies.  I still make the mistake of saying social studies, and get weird looks.
  2. Standards and support documents are clear, short, and concise.  Those that have taught US History in South Carolina, know all about the some 100 pages of what students need to know, and what they don’t need to know. I haven’t counted the pages, but it’s much shorter, and more importantly easier to understand what they want, instead of getting bogged down in details.
  3. WE DON’T HAVE TO WRITE STANDARDS ON THE BOARD! Now this, I’ll be honest is probably the school and district, but it was a shock for me.  Instead, we are trying a new thing where we say We will learn….then I will learn… I being the student, we being the class.  It’s designed to make objectives understandable to the student, rather than the long “The student will be able to…”.  We do have to connect our tests to the state standards, but honestly I already did that at least for US History.
  4. LESSON PLANS: one of my favorite things that is different, is that lesson plans do NOT have to be posted publicly!  My old district was big on this, and to be brutally honest, I despised it.  I did not mind having admins looking at them, but I felt I would be scrutinized by parents.  It created unhealthy competition in departments, and let’s be honest.  When I did weekly lesson plans, by Tuesday, it was off.  
  5. Technology: This one has been bit of a downer.  I came from a very tech savvy school.  Last year, I printed maybe three times.  All my assessments, activities, everything was online, thanks to google systems.  Here, we are Microsoft centered.  This in itself is not an issue, but it seems there are people resistant to technology.  They do not focus on one to one here.  I’ll see what I can do, and hopefully I’ll adapt.
  6. Assessments:This boggled me.  Assessments are common, meaning each teacher of a subject gives the same test. We have to be at the same point at certain times. Also, formal assessments count 90% of a student’s grade, and informal (classwork and homework) are only 10%.  We also don’t have to grade every informal assessment.  This is incredibly different, and I think is the reflection of the type of students I will teach.  In South Carolina, students will not work for nothing.  If I didn’t grade an assignment, trust was broken, and kids would not do the next one, despite the fact it would hurt their grade.  Here, I’m guessing from what I’ve been told, the kids just do it if the teacher says to do so.  I’m sure this is limited to NOVA, because I just don’t see certain students of lower socio-economic backgrounds ever doing that.  They have a fair and just mentality, and doing something for free is not fair.  While this policy makes my life easier with grading, I am still skeptical of these students doing work just because I asked, and not for their grade.
  7. Planning:. So beautiful.  I almost cried.  We have four blocks a day.  We are on AB schedule. We get one block of planning one day, and common planning on the next.  I’m coming from a school that only gave 45-48 minutes of planning.  I know some of you are asking how will common planning work, but it’s so nice.  You have to work with the other teachers in your department, COLLABORATION!!!, and come up with common assessments, retakes, and pacing to make sure that everyone is on the right track.  I love this.  This was what I pictured when I got my first job.  Instead, I got a bunch of people who were resistant to sharing, or helping new teachers.  Don’t get me wrong, I found my collaborators I would work with, (looking at you Franklin, Regina, and Link!…and MaryAnn for support lol), but we never were able to collaborate that much.  We shared files, and at lunch would ask, “What standard are you on?”. This is not an attack on the department, but rather the culture in the school.  There were pushes for collaboration, but we only got a handful of days to actually do it.  When we did get the days, we weren’t sure what to do. Here, the tasks are set clear.  Now I know some older teachers think that this would be a waste, but honestly so far, I love it.  We are forced to share and see what’s going on.  We don’t make our classes exactly the same, we do different activities, but having that discussion of what’s happening when, is really helpful.  I also see it improving…
  8. School Culture: I loved my last place of employment. Honestly, I wish I could transplant the entire school up here.  However, one thing I disliked was the school culture.  At my old school, people were often distant towards each other. I always made sure I was outwardly nice to each and every person.  I always said good morning.  However, it often wasn’t reciprocated, and I was met with a glare pretty often.  This wasn’t the case with my department.  The school admins would try multiple times to get the faculty together for dinner or special events, but many people openly mocked the events. We had secret pals and an ice cream social at the end of the year which was nice.  Last year, we had a Christmas party thrown by the culinary arts students.  I was so happy, because this was the first faculty Christmas anything we had had while I was there.  Then I heard some staff in front of me mocking the food, and even some of the kids.  We had antlers that were given to us to wear by a faculty member, and I’ll never forget the look on their face when another person told them that the idea was stupid.  Thank goodness for our principal who wore his.  Only half of the faculty showed up.  That being said, again not everyone was like this.  But the sour attitude was contagious, and I found myself sadly glaring at people.  This was not the fault of the administrators, but honestly, if I went back, I’m not sure how to fix it.  At my new school, this will be it’s second year.  And I can see that they’ve been very careful to bring a positive faculty culture into the school.  Honestly, it’s too soon for me to judge, but it feels warmer.  One of the vice principals picked me out on the first day of county training.  We had never met, but he knew me and my name.  That really stuck out as positive to me.  People have also been very warm and welcoming, visiting my classroom to introduce themselves and so on.  And of course the social science team is awesome, but every social science team always is.  😁
  9. Last for tonight is discipline.  Again, I think this is relative to the socio-economic status of my new school, but it seems discipline procedires are vague, and not too defined. This makes me nervous.  At my old school, we had short slips for detention, long slips to see an administrator, and if a kid was being particularly unruly, you could kick them out of class and send them to In School.  I don’t even know if you can kick a student out of class here, but everyone keeps assuring me that it won’t be a problem here.  However, I always tend to have worst case scenario (like the time I had two gang related fights in one class period, that’s a story for another day.).  They have detention slips online, and long forms, but if the student keeps mouthing off, what do you do?  I know de-escalation, but that sometimes doesn’t work, despite what theorists say.  

So there is more, but this post is getting super long.  I want to revisit some of this at the end of the school year to add more, as I’m sure there will be.  

I love Northern Virginia.  There is so much to do, and though cost of living is insanely high, there are many free things to do here. It’s the first time I don’t feel out of place as a socially awkward person.  People seem to be less outwardly judgemental here which is nice.  I’ve only had one panic attack since being here, and despite school starting on Monday, I feel much calmer.  That’s another thing that’s different.  We get 10 days to prepare our classroom instead of 5.  And it is lovely.

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